Let’s Get Physical – Thoughts from Falcons vs Titans – Preseason Game 3

Congrats to the Titans for finally getting the win at LP Field, a feat that hopefully will get repeated more often this season.  The Titans won 4 games at home during the 2012 season and are a long way away from the Titans era when LP Field was considered a tough place to play. Still, they gave fans hope that a return could be looming with a physically dominating performance on the field in front of the home crowd. There are more positive things than negative to take away from this game and it’s great to finally be able to write that phrase. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Jake Locker has been better than his stat line might suggest and was a crisp 11 of 13 for 133 yards and 1 touchdown last night. He added 3 rushes for 22 yards as well. Even more importantly, his receivers helped him out snagging just about everything he threw their way. Taylor Thompson let a pass go through his hands but other than that misstep they were great. Ryan Fitzpatrick would go 6 of 9 for 76 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. The quarterbacks really spread the ball around and despite the lost fumble and the interception I give the passing game high marks.

Nate Washington once again led the wide receivers with 4 catches for 70 yards and a touchdown despite leaving the game early with a minor ankle injury. Kenny Britt caught 3 passes for 42 yards and looked very much like he had returned to form last night. Britt was physical and looked strong which is an area of concern for me and it was great to see that from him. I look forward to seeing more of his strength and physicality in 2013. Rookie wide receiver Justin Hunter caught his first NFL touchdown pass on a 3 yard pass from backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Damian Williams caught 1 pass for 5 yards. Tight end Taylor Thompson caught 2 passes for 21 yards and Craig Stevens added 1 catch for 5 yards.

Michael Preston showed last night why people have been so high on him and why he has become a favorite for those who really follow and pay attention to Titans football. He caught 3 passes for 68 yards including one boomer from Fitzpatrick for 56 yards that set up Justin Hunter’s touchdown. Preston has shown flashes of greatness but I have to agree with Voice of the Titans Mike Keith in that he had to show better consistency. Well, he showed it last night and I continue to believe he has made a case to make the final 53.

The Titans running game continues to be strong as the Titans rushed for 171 yards last night. Chris Johnson carried the ball 11 times for 65 yards netting a 5.9 YPC. Shonn Greene has been fantastic in his role with the Titans gaining the tough yardage. He would add 5 carries for 17 yards for a 3.4 YPC but left early with a minor ankle injury that isn’t expected to be serious. Jackie Battle continues to make a case for making the roster also grinding out the tough yards and showing some nice moves. He finished the night with 13 carries for 41 yards and a 3.2 YPC. The only negative was the one pass to Chris Johnson that went for negative yardage but I still believe he is going to make plays in the passing game.

Rob Bironas made both of his field goals after going 1 of 3 in Cincinnati against the Bengals. While that was great to see you are dreaming if you think his performance isn’t going to be scrutinized. Bironas slipped a bit in 2012 and then missed a good portion of training camp with a bad back. While it’s great to see him make those kicks isn’t it ironic that we have to point it out as a positive? I know kickers are people too but the misses last year were game changers and while he wasn’t the only one who missed in Cincinnati in combination those were as well. At 35, Bironas is still young in kickers age but sometimes the decline is gradual and sometimes it hits suddenly. I hope the Titans aren’t in too many situations where they need to win from field goals but history tells us it happens. They lost at least one game last year due to a missed kick.

On defense, the story of the night has to be the defensive line which had one of its better outings of the preseason. Jurrell Casey had an absolutely stellar night and I truly hope this year is the year he gets the recognition he so rightly deserves. Casey finished the night with 3 tackles and 2 assists. He was credited with 1.5 sacks, 1 TFL, and 2 QB hits as well. I distinctly remember one play where he chased a running back down from behind. Pretty impressive for a man his size but if you have been watching him hardly surprising. He is surprisingly quick and agile to be 6′ 1″ and 300 pounds.

Antonio “Mookie’ Johnson got the start in relief of Sammie Lee Hill who sat out the night with a minor elbow injury. Hill is expected to start in the season opener at Pittsburgh but it was nice to see Johnson get some good playing time. A player the Titans originally drafted in the 5th round in 2007, he was snagged off their practice squad by the Colts during the 2008 season and spent the past 5 years with them. Johnson returns for another stint with the Titans and appears on track to make the final 53. He finished the night with 2 tackles and 1 assist.

I have said it before but I will say it again and that is Derrick Morgan is primed to have an outstanding year. He is on track to enter the 2013 season healthy and in the best shape of his career. I was never a fan of him bulking up and it’s great to see a slimmed down Morgan getting off the line quickly and being a disruptive force in the backfield. Morgan is going to be hard to handle this year. He finished with 2 tackles and 2 assists, 1 sack, 1 QB hit and 1 TFL.

Kam Wimbley saw his most significant playing time of the preseason and was a difference maker on the defensive line. Wimbley is much better than he gets credit for and was very active, finishing with 1 assist, .5 sacks, and 1 QB hit. When he is on the line he gets attention and pressure that doesn’t always show up in the stats. Rookie Lavar Edwards showed some rookie moments in his starting debut but was solid. Second year man Mike Martin added another sack, a QB hit, and 1 TFL. Karl Klug also showed up last night and I just don’t see how he doesn’t make this roster. Klug has bulked up during the offseason but is still explosive. He was credited with half a sack, 2 tackles and 1 QB hit.

Going into the game I was a bit worried about the linebacker situation but I thought Patrick Bailey and Tim Shaw did a good job filling in for Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown at outside linebacker. In particular I thought Tim Shaw had a nice game. Shaw finished with 4 tackles, all solo, and was generally around the ball when he was on the field. Bailey finished with 2 tackles and 1 assist. Scott Solomon played much better at outside linebacker than he did previously but needs to work on awareness. Still, the improvement was nice to see and his stat line wasn’t bad with 1 tackle, 1 assist, and 1 pass defended. Tig Willard had a nice night and snagged his first NFL interception. Unfortunately, he fell down or he could have had a pick six.

At middle linebacker, Moise Fokou again got the start with Kadarron Anderson coming into the game in the second half. Fokou had a better game last night than he did in Cincinnati, particularly in run support, but he still isn’t on the level as a healthy Colin McCarthy. The improvement was nice to see and he did finish with 2 tackles, 2 assists, half a sack and 1 QB hit. Anderson continues to improve and had a nice game as well with 2 tackles, 2 assists, 1 sack, 1 TFL, and 1 QB hit. The Titans may have found a real hidden gem there. It will be interesting to see how the time gets split at MLB in the final preseason game.

The Titans played a lot of man coverage last night and I thought the results were good. The thing about man is that you are going to make plays but you are going to give up some as well. The Falcons only put up 202 yards in the air and held Julio Jones to 4 catches for 81 yards and no touchdowns. Jones was targeted 8 times. Not too shabby at all. Perhaps even more importantly, they held Tony Gonzales to 2 receptions for 21 yards and no touchdowns. Jason McCourty looks good in man coverage and Alterraun Verner played well despite the 2 penalties which I will discuss later. Verner did let Julio Jones get behind him for a big play but let’s face it Julio Jones does that to a lot of good defensive backs.

Regarding the PI on Verner, this was just a terrible call:

Another shot I blame this on Ed Hitman Guns https://t.co/ugaVtbZmY8

Verner did a great job covering Julio Jones. This penalty I thought was ticky tacky too as they were both playing the ball and there was contact by them both.

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The company line last night was that Tommie Campbell evened the competition between he and Verner. I’m going to have to call *cough* “no way” *cough* on that one. Campbell did fine but you didn’t see him on one of the best receivers in the game either. The concern about Verner was that he might not be as good in man as he is in zone and that has been completely debunked. This competition is beyond over and it isn’t even close.

Speaking of aggressiveness and man coverage, I can’t fault Blidi Wreh-Wilson for his play too much last night. The rookie makes some really nice plays but he let Darius Johnson slip past him and catch a pass that went for the Falcons only touchdown after safety Corey Lynch failed to make the tackle. The rookie is going to make those mistakes but you want to them in preseason so they can get corrected before the regular season begins. BW3 is a guy who seems to learn from his mistakes and you can see the improvement from where he was at the beginning of training camp.

My last thoughts in regard to the cornerbacks, is that I am pleased to see Coty Sensabaugh rebound from a bit of a shaky training camp to play a good solid game last night. Sensabaugh got significant playing time which showed in the final stats as he led the team in tackles with 6 tackles 5 of which were solo. I have long been a fan of Sensabaugh and while I do believe Verner should rightfully start at right corner he is in a contract year and who knows what will transpire there. If Verner ends up leaving after this year, which I would hate, I would love to see Sensabaugh win the right cornerback spot.

Turning to the safety position, I have to weigh in on the Bernard Pollard penalty. Now I am a big Pollard fan and I love his aggressive style of play and I understand what you get along with that and I am okay with it. Still, this penalty I didn’t like at all:

I didn’t like Pollard coming in late and definitively didn’t like the leading with the helmet thing but what I don’t like most of all is that Pollard is and should be smarter than this play. Be aggressive I want that believe me I do. Just be smart and that’s all I ask. Also, I have to give props to Pollard because other than that penalty he had a great game. The Titans pulled him up to the line quite a bit to help neutralize Gonzales and the short passing game and overall it was pretty effective. Nice coaching by the Titans and good play by Pollard. He would finish the game with 2 tackles and 1 assist.

Speaking of safeties, George Wilson played a lot more with the starters and really showed what a nice player he is and how well he plays in coverage. He has the coverage skills of a cornerback. Wilson was on Julio Jones more than once and did a nice job. The Titans are really lucky to have him and you have to think they are working on ways to keep him on the field more often. Wilson would finish the game with 3 tackles, 1 assist and 1 pass defended. I also thought he had a tackle for a loss but it doesn’t show up in the stats.

Some final notes and first it was great to see the Titans win the time of possession battle against a very potent offense. How amazing is that stat considering last year? Second, the Titans defense was much better against the run last night, holding the Falcons to 106 rushing yards on 20 carries with no rushing touchdowns. The Falcons still averaged 5.3 YPC but overall a solid effort from the Titans defense. It was just a balanced effort from both the offense and defense in last nights game. More of that please Titans.

Final game summary

Total First Downs 17 Total First Downs 21
By Rushing 5 By Rushing 9
By Passing 9 By Passing 11
By Penalty By Penalty
Third Down Efficiency 4/12 – 33% Third Down Efficiency 7/14 – 50%
Fourth Down Efficiency 0/0 – 0% Fourth Down Efficiency 0/0 – 0%
Total Net Yards 308 Total Net Yards 361
Total Rushing/Passing Plays (includes Sacks) 59 Total Rushing/Passing Plays (includes Sacks) 61
Average Gain per Offensive Play 5.2 Average Gain per Offensive Play 5.9
Net Yards Rushing 106 Net Yards Rushing 171
Total Rushing Plays 20 Total Rushing Plays 36
Average Gain per Rushing Play 5.3 Average Gain per Rushing Play 4.8
Tackled for a Loss (Number-Yards) 1–1 Tackled for a Loss (Number-Yards) 1–1
Net Yards Passing 202 Net Yards Passing 190
Times Sacked (Number-Yards) 6 – 41 Times Sacked (Number-Yards) 3 – 19
Gross Yards Passing 243 Gross Yards Passing 209
Pass Comp-Att-Int 18 – 33 – 1 Pass Comp-Att-Int 17 – 22 – 1
Average Gain per Passing Play (includes Sacks) 5.2 Average Gain per Passing Play (includes Sacks) 7.6
Kickoffs (Number-In End Zone-Touchbacks) 5 – 4 – 2 Kickoffs (Number-In End Zone-Touchbacks) 6 – 6 – 5
Punts (Number-Average) 4 – 51.0 Punts (Number-Average) 3 – 46.0
Blocked 0 Blocked 0
Net Punting Average 45.8 Net Punting Average 38.7
FGs Blocked – PATs Blocked 0 – 0 FGs Blocked – PATs Blocked 0 – 0
Total Return Yardage (excludes Kickoffs) 23 Total Return Yardage (excludes Kickoffs) 5
Punt Returns (Number-Yards) 2 – 22 Punt Returns (Number-Yards) 1 – 1
Kickoff Returns (Number-Yards) 1 – 32 Kickoff Returns (Number-Yards) 3 – 61
Interception Returns (Number-Yards) 1 – 1 Interception Returns (Number-Yards) 1 – 4
Penalties (Number-Yards) 5 – 41 Penalties (Number-Yards) 5 – 41
Fumbles (Number-Lost) 0 – 0 Fumbles (Number-Lost) 1 – 1
Touchdowns 1 Touchdowns 3
Rushing 0 Rushing 0
Passing 1 Passing 3
Interceptions 0 Interceptions 0
Kickoff Returns 0 Kickoff Returns 0
Fumble Returns 0 Fumble Returns 0
Punt Returns 0 Punt Returns 0
Extra Points (Made-Attempted) 1 – 1 Extra Points (Made-Attempted) 3 – 3
Kicking (Made-Attempted) 1 – 1 Kicking (Made-Attempted) 3 – 3
Two Point Conversions (Made-Attempted) 0 – 0 Two Point Conversions (Made-Attempted) 0 – 0
Field Goals (Made-Attempted) 3 – 4 Field Goals (Made-Attempted) 2 – 2
Red Zone Efficiency 0/3 – 0% Red Zone Efficiency 3/4 – 75%
Goal To Go Efficiency 0/0 – 0% Goal To Go Efficiency 1/1 – 100%
Safeties 0 Safeties 0
Final Score 16 Final Score 27
Time of Possession 28:18 Time of Possession 31:42
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